Champion or cheat? This question has hung over the head of the American cyclist, Lance Armstrong, for more than a decade. Despite the dramatic conclusion to the case against Armstrong by the US Anti Drug Agency [USADA], the question will remain unanswered.

He's put it behind him but can everyone else? Picture: Getty

That is because, apart from Armstrong and those close to him, nobody can honestly claim to know the truth. He continues to protest his innocence. Supporters of Armstrong will continue to observe that he has never failed a drugs test amongst the more than 500 he has taken during his stellar career.

Detractors, including the seemingly jealous sections of the French media, will continue to assert that the American was involved in a long-running, systematic conspiracy to cheat his way to victory.

Followers of the sport are perplexed, but ultimately none-the-wiser about the truth. Claims on both sides have merit, but many people are left with an uneasy feeling that the USADA process is flawed, and the case was driven by sporting politics.

Armstrong burst upon the US cycling scene of 1991, winning the national amateur road championship, after success as a triathlete. Two years later, he stunned the cycling world by winning the rainbow jersey at the World Championships in Norway. At just 21, he was one of the youngest world champions ever.

For the next few years, his career advanced on the European circuit, with Armstrong claiming places in classics and two stages of the Tour de France. In 1995, his well-known battle with testicular cancer almost took his life. Armstrong overcame the disease, and returned to cycling, to dominate the Tour de France for seven years.

The drug allegations started from his first Tour win in 1999. It was then that a urine sample detected small traces of corticosteroid, but a medical certificate indicated he had used a cream approved for saddle sores.

In 2005, the French newspaper, L’Équipe, alleged that the American had returned a positive test for EPO during the 1999 Tour, but an investigation was inconclusive after suggestions of tampering. The issue has dogged Armstrong ever since.

The issue split the cycling world, with riders and commentators taking different sides. The greatest road cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx, has stood by the US rider, while Armstrong’s compatriot and three-time Tour winner,  Greg LeMond, has criticized him.

An American Grand Jury investigation was terminated with no charges against Armstrong.

A Texas court recently allowed the USADA process to continue, but the judge was critical of many aspects of the proceedings.

In his decision, Judge Sam Sparks took USADA to task, stating, “there are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA’s apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with the Union Cycliste Internationale’s equally evident desire not to proceed against him.”

In another part of the decision, Judge Sparks writes, “Among the Court’s concerns is the fact that USADA has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after his alleged doping violations occurred, and intends to consolidate his case with those of several other alleged offenders, including - incredibly - several over whom USA Cycling and US Olympic Committee apparently have no authority whatsoever.

Further, if Armstrong’s allegations are true, and USADA is promising lesser sanctions against other allegedly offending riders in exchange for their testimony against Armstrong, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations to USOC.”

This is a highly troubling aspect of the case. If former teammates, motivated by jealousy, spite or revenge, can bring allegations in a private arbitration process, there can be little faith in it. If, as alleged, others riders were offered indemnity to dump on Armstrong, should not the public be informed?

It is interesting that USADA officials could only infer that Armstrong must have been guilty because he said “enough is enough”, effectively labelling the process a Kangaroo Court that in which he would have no further part. If the process was so rigorous, then the evidence should have been made public. And if a Grand Jury investigation led to nothing, what was different here?

The head of the World Anti Drug Agency - Australian, John Fahey - should order an independent investigation into the whole process. If WADA wants to instill public confidence in its processes, it should disclose what happened in the US proceedings, including addressing the allegations that ‘sweetheart’ deals were done with other competitors.

Otherwise, we are left with the troubling suspicion that the case has been motivated by questionable aims and personal hubris.

Whether Armstrong is stripped of his victories remains a matter for the UCI. For those of us who follow cycling, and who fervently wish it to be drug-free, the result is totally unsatisfactory.

Cheat or champion? Who knows?

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

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    • Kika says:

      11:23am | 27/08/12

      Intelligence and clear circumstantial evidence, Mr Andrews. This is what the case against him is based on. Not personal opinion or belief or a gut feeling - all things you would be familiar with. And of course, relying on intelligence is something you would be unfamiliar with likewise.

    • humpty says:

      11:45am | 27/08/12

      “clear circumstantial evidence”

      Seriously - if they are going to rely on ‘clear circumstantial evidence’ then why bother with the whole charade of drug tests and laboratories…

      I’m not suggesting that LA is innocent, but surely ‘circumstantial evidence’ is a flimsy reason for millions of dollars, billions of man hours and hundreds of weeks - to pursue one guy, that’s retired….

      Its the same reasoning the church uses:

      Scientific facts - discounted

      circumstantial evidence - reliable…

      In my view, this is the whole problem with USADA and their case.  Pursue one guy, with (lets face it) limited evidence (counted as ‘circumstantial’ in your own view) in contrast to the hundreds of tests…

      If you were pulled over for drink driving, passed the breath test, and the blood sample, but where charged by the cops on the basis of ‘circumstantial evidence’ what would you be thinking?

    • humpty says:

      11:46am | 27/08/12

      Also, even the US judge thought that the charges against Armstrong were based on shady motives:

      Direct quote from federal court judge:

      “USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”

    • Kate says:

      12:23pm | 27/08/12

      Of course they are out to get Armstrong. But there is a good reason. Bruyneel and Armstrong were the ringleaders behind the doping in the team. Offering the other riders a reduced sentence for their testimonies is the same deal offered every day to drug dealers for providing evidence against their bosses. The main ring leaders are the ones that the USADA are going after.
      The fact that he never tested positive is just a ridiculous statement in trying to prove his innocence. Pantani, etc. never tested positive either. The riders had the upper hand in the battle meaning that they would only get caught if they stuffed up. eg: Blood doping with other peoples blood, badly stored blood or blood that was tainted with doping products when it was stored, as has a happened.

    • Kika says:

      01:12pm | 27/08/12

      Marion Jones never failed a drug test either… the masking agents are too good to rely solely on the tests.

      So the rest of his team are busted, his doctors admit it, but Lance is still clean? Come on.

    • MaryM says:

      01:13pm | 27/08/12

      Kika, it’s a shame you (like so many these days) can’t make your point without resorting to taking personal digs at your opponent/s.

    • Borderer says:

      02:08pm | 27/08/12

      If you were pulled over for drink driving, passed the breath test, and the blood sample, but where charged by the cops on the basis of ‘circumstantial evidence’ what would you be thinking?
      Best analogy.
      The thing is USADA are basically taking him to court with no physical evidense for a crime that requires physical evidense and then internationally penalising him when they aren’t an international body. Do I think it’s likely that he used a banned substance, I suspect yes but I have no proof. I also suspect that some of the sucessful Chinese swimmers at the Olympics were maybe using banned substances, so we should strip them of medals too, perhaps anyone who is faster than a fat guy with asthma, 100m sprint now done in 20-25 seconds, any quicker and you’re obviously using.
      Armstrong should be provided the presumption of innocence.

    • humpty says:

      02:18pm | 27/08/12


      Despite everyone saying that Marion Jones never failed a drug test - she in fact did.

      In 2006 she tested positive for EPO in her A sample - but her B sample later tested negative (so there was no need for her to defend it). this will be on the net somewhere I’m sure - she may have even tested positive more than once (I’m not sure)

      In addition, she was known for ‘missing’ tests - ie not providing samples or ‘forgetting’, especially early in he career. For those that follow Track and Field, you will also recall that she mysteriously pulled out at the last minute of the Switzerland ‘Golden’ meet (can’t remember what its really called).  This was in about late 2005/early 2006(ish) -  not long before she finally admitted that she was using banned substances - the story is presumably that she failed tests prior to that meet - and decided to avoid the championship and come clean to potentially avoid jail time (didn’t work).

      Also, comments about ‘masking agents’ are a bit of a furphy - you see all the masking agents are also banned substances - so testing positive to a masking agent would essentially be the same as testing positive to PED use!

      Of course Armstrong did test positive once - but this was (supposedly) as a result of the use of approved medication for a sore bum (rashes from bike saddle).

      In either case, my problem is not whether USADA want to chase drug cheats, just that they need to have some type of mechanism and process to follow, so everyone knows the rules up front.  The problem is that they make up their process as they go along and then the goal posts keep moving.

      From LA’s point of view - he goes through this whole charade again (as he has done dozens of times since the early 2000’s - he wins again (thats a presumption on my part, he’s won every other time) - then the USADA change the rules, start again and 2 years from now we are back here talking about it….

      That’s why he pulled up stumps and went home -

    • Nomad says:

      04:06pm | 27/08/12

      O.k. I am geniunely curious to know if, in a race like the Tour de France, it is physiologically possible for a clean cyclist to win when the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place getters are all on the juice.

      Is it possible?

    • Tim says:

      11:33am | 27/08/12

      The only thing that should matter is the drug tests.

      If they can produce a verifiable positive result, then he should be guilty. If they can’t, then even if he was doping he should be innocent.

      And in saying that, the way the USADA have chased him is disgraceful. I don’t blame him for giving up the fight against them.

    • Glen says:

      12:07pm | 27/08/12

      “The only thing that should matter is the drug tests.” What’s wrong with eyewitnesses? Or possession? They catch more doping than the tests do.

      USADA are accusing him of doping. That is, they are claiming that he has cheated at the top of his sport for a decade, and made millions doing so. Faced with what they believe to be the greatest sporting cheat of all time then you can understand USADA’s relentlessness.

    • marley says:

      12:21pm | 27/08/12

      @Tim - Marion Jones never tested positive either.  But there was plenty of evidence to establish that she used steroids and lied about it, including her own subsequent admission.  Fact is, the state of drug testing always lags behind the development of new drugs and masking agents.  A positive drug test is evidence that you’re drugging;  a negative one is not evidence that you’re not.

    • Tim says:

      12:30pm | 27/08/12

      eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. Particularly when it serves their own self interest to see it one way.
      Possession would be much stronger evidence but when has he been caught with drugs?

      “Faced with what they believe to be the greatest sporting cheat of all time then you can understand USADA’s relentlessness. “

      Not really. He’s retired, it’s not like he’s going to win another race. If they really cared about doping they would be concentrating on current athletes. This simply looks like a witch hunt to claim a big scalp.

    • Tim says:

      12:59pm | 27/08/12

      Marion Jones admitted it, Amstrong hasn’t.

      “a negative one is not evidence that you’re not. “

      Its also not evidence that the testing isn’t good enough either.

    • Nick says:

      02:12pm | 27/08/12

      A litany of former athletes have said that the tests failed to detect their doping.  The tests are a deterrent but they aren’t foolproof.  That’s why there are non-analytical positives, and that is what USADA have used to charge Armstrong.

      Armstrong refused to arbitrate despite not even having seen the evidence against him - full disclosure is required under the code but he chose to accept sanctions rather than even sight the evidence.  It is an extraordinary decision to say the least.

      Under the code refusing to arbitrate is akin to pleading no contest - if someone pleads guilty, or no contest, in the court system we don’t go through with a sham trial just to satisfy public curiosity.  Similarly under the code, so it is ridiculous to then claim we will never know.  We do know because Armstrong pleaded no contest.  Nevertheless it is even more ridiculous because Travis Tygart has said that they will release a reasoned judgement in order to satisfy UCI requirements so people saying there is no evidence are jumping the gun.

    • AdamC says:

      04:08pm | 27/08/12

      The problem for Armstrong is that many former associates, themselves cheats, are pointing the finger at him. I suppose these cheats could simply be telling the anti-doping authorities what they want to hear but , unless Armstrong is prepared to contest the accusations, how will the evidence ever be tested (or refuted)?

      It is all pretty sad, really.

    • humpty says:

      11:39am | 27/08/12

      I’m a fan of LA, but I’m also not stupid enough to think everything was clean back in the1990’s… I don’t know whether he was on the juice or not to be honest…

      The thing is, after doing extensive reading about the WADA, UCI, USADA, the nature of anti-doping testing and the like (I have a background in scientific research and genetics, so I feel I at least understand some of the process) I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole USADA process is dodgy and just plain stupid. 

      USADA claim to be chasing Armstrong for the benefit of the sport, claiming that they want to enforce the rules of fair play…. but they don’t seem to have a process that they will stick to, ignore some alleged offenders to chase others, ignore some evidence whilst focusing on others.

      For what its worth, the whole USADA process has done more damage to the world of cycling than if every winner for the last 20 years came out and admitted being on the juice.

      Lantz Armstrong may or may not be a drug cheat, but this whole charade of USADA is simply stupidity.

      It feels to me that USADA is like the magpie that attacked me on the weekend - its got a bit of power, doesn’t really know whats its purpose is but its found one person to target and just kept going until I gave up and walked away….

      Magpie thinks its victorious - most people thinks its just a pointless animal flapping in the wind.

    • Nick says:

      02:24pm | 27/08/12

      I’m going to say you’re wrong, and the reason is that I know people who have finished on the podium at state and national level, myself included, who walked away from our dreams of professional cycling careers rather than dope. Vaughters wrote a piece recently where he said what would you do…well plenty of people said no thanks, but you don’t know them so you think they don’t exist.  USADA is protecting the safety of future cyclists.  People have died because of the win at all costs ethos that leads to doping, and even local amateur athletes and school kids have started doping.  Cycling put itself in this postiion by having an entrenched culture of organised doping.  Cycling made a commitment to clean itself up when it signed on to the antidoping effort.  Cycling is the problem with cycling and not USADA, WADA, or the media.

    • JT says:

      11:52am | 27/08/12

      If Lance Armstrong was doping, I’m not sure I believe the moon landing any more.

    • M says:

      12:10pm | 27/08/12

      What’s not to believe about it being filmed in a studio in Area 51? You don’t think they ACTUALLY landed on the moon do you?

      Honest to god, some of you conspiracy theorists are getting quite whacky.

    • Nomad says:

      01:20pm | 27/08/12

      I take it you’re referencing the tweet Stephen Fry made over the weekend….

      “@stephenfry: Now that Lance Armstrong’s been accused of taking drugs, I’m seriously starting to doubt his story that he walked on the moon.”

    • Phil says:

      12:01pm | 27/08/12

      Kevin. You’ve as much chance of John Fahey coming out and ordering a full investigation into USADA as Julia Gillard resigning. Nil. Fahey has already stated that Lance is guilty by virtue of his non contesting of the matter. I find this highly offensive. He passed every drug test. If they have evidence he failed bring it on. Problem now is who do they award victory to as many below him have since either been implicated or tested positive.

      It was a witch hunt pure and simple.

      I choose to believe LA as I cannot think that anyone having gone through what he did would put drugs into his system.

      How far are they going to go. Do they strip Michael Phelps of his 17 gold medals cause he was busted on camera on a chillum. Do they go back and retest many from the 80’s. FFS. He is retired.

    • Kika says:

      01:15pm | 27/08/12

      Answer = masking agents and clever timing of use. Hardly any of them actually fail the tests these days.

    • Nick says:

      04:32pm | 27/08/12

      He’s not retired - he was racing as a professional triathlete.  The doctors he used are still active in the sport, the team directors are as well,so are the trainers, lots of is former team mates, he’s a team owner too…why is it a witch hunt - go to USADA and look at the list of athletes banned this year. All sorts of people you’ve never heard of.  You only think it’s a witch hunt because you’ve been reading Arrmstrong’s PR.

      USADA has the job of protecting clean athletes, why should they not chase Armstrong when they believe he’s a key player in a massive doping conspiracy?  Targeting people is part of the anti-doping game now…it’s so sophisticated you can’t just use random testing.  You need to look at patterns, predict vulnerabilities, and then test or otherwise conduct checks.  Armstrong is worth over $100 million dollars, he paid $500K to a doctor known to facilitate doping and already banned whilst claiming to have no connection to him…you think he just likes to give his friends half a million bucks for kicks?

      Who cares who get’s the wins?  USADA told UCI they think a truth and reconciliation process is required to clean up cycling.  Why not?  Just declare the sport corrupt and clean it up so future cyclists don’t have to put this crap in their bodies.

    • asunder says:

      12:14pm | 27/08/12

      great metaphor Humpty!

    • We can't handle the truth says:

      12:25pm | 27/08/12

      Perhaps Craig Stevens could shed some light on the situation?

    • thatmosis says:

      12:29pm | 27/08/12

      Its now got to the point where doping is so wide spread and Government assisted that no sport is really worth watching or supporting. As for placing bets, ha, that’s like throwing your money down the loo as the team with the best drugs wins.
      Lance may or may not have used drugs but the suspicion is there and so many of his riding compatriots have been chucked out for doping that its now called the Tour De Drugs.
        The money that is there for any athlete who does well makes it almost inevitable that at some time doping or performance enhancing drugs will be considered and used. Take away the money and instead just give a laurel leaf head garland for first prize and there would be less problems and a more even contest.

    • John says:

      12:30pm | 27/08/12

      “Supporters of Armstrong will continue to observe that he has never failed a drugs test amongst the more than 500 he has taken during his stellar career.”

      True, but unfortunately, this is not conclusive. After all, Marion Jones passed all her drug tests at the Sydney Olympics, but it turned out she was juiced to the eye balls.

    • Glen says:

      12:32pm | 27/08/12

      A few corrections.

      “500 tests” has been pretty comprehensively debunked. The highest possible number has been calculated at 236 (and that’s being generous and includes samples given to form the “biological passport” baseline).

      The US Grand Jury was for fraud against the US government. We don’t know the grounds upon which that failed, as proceedings and evidence are secret. It could well have failed on some legal argument (such as statute of limitations) and not come to grips with the doping question. We simply don’t know.

      You can’t have it both ways with your Kangaroo Court statement. If it’s not a real court then you can’t see the untested evidence, because that would open the not-real court to defamation action.

      Readers might think from your quotes that US judge Sam Sparks ruled against USADA. In fact he ruled for them, dismissing Armstrong’s claims that USADA lacked due process and lacked jurisdiction.

      There really is enough hyperbole around the whole Armstrong saga without adding more. What I find interesting is the depth of disconnect between the public and race cycling view of Armstrong, and the depth of emotional attachment of his supporters.

    • stephen says:

      05:00pm | 27/08/12

      It is not an ‘emotional attachment’ that gives rise to our defense of him, but the same portion of Justice that supposedly instigates this whole legal process, and that is that now Lance, in the total absence now of a Court of Arbitration which can decide his guilt or innocence, now the onus is on the ‘defendant’ to prove his innocence.
      And the Judge Sam Sparks threw out Armstrong’s legal defense because he - Armstrong -  used 21 pages in an argument, as the Judge said, when he could have used 2.
      ps I wish I could post here all the names of drug cheats in the Tour Triumvirate that I’ve been told were past winners, but I don’t think I could spell all their names.

    • Stephan says:

      12:47pm | 27/08/12

      You know; it doesn’t really matter whether he is or is not guilty.  “Somebody” has already decided he is and is determined to either prove it or bankrupt him in the process.  Either way would be good for “somebody” looking for that sort of result.

      After 7 claims amounting to the same thing all Lance can probably see is huge legal bills and no respite.  I’d give up too.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      12:55pm | 27/08/12

      No-one will ever know what the truth is though if the report in the print media today is true that the French Testing Authorities knew Armstrong was being forewarned of snap, unnanounced testing then it is no wonder people have doubts.
      For any of his former team-mates & cycling friends to make blanket claims that because they did not see him, or any other cyclist for that matter, using performance-enhancing products as being proof-possitive that they did not is patently ridiculous for no-one with a microgram of brains would ingest or inject any banned substance whilst others were present - unless, of course, they were all doing it!!
      If the USADA have proof then let them produce it & do so immediately. Let them Prove their claims.
      If they can do that beyond any reasonable doubt then not only should Armstrong lose his titles. On the local scene he should then be forced to return the millions of dollars of South Australian Taxpayer’s money the former Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, gave him to appear at the Tour Down Under.
      Let the USADA fully prove their claims. If they can’t/won’t then they should shut the hell up.
      If they can then Armstrong has to wear it.
      The tragedy is not Armstrong’s career & reputation it is the disastrous effect this whole affair will have on Cycling. It has been under a black cloud of drug-taking for years. This could destroy the sport altogether. It will certainly make all sponsors think twice - if at all - about supporting it.

    • Adan says:

      01:15pm | 27/08/12

      This article deserves a wider readership. It is a well-balanced summary of the issues. USADA may have won a technical victory, but their clumsy handling of the case has put them in the frame. The fact that Kevin Andrews is prepared to come out and challenge his former cabinet colleague, John Fahey, is telling.

    • Geronimo says:

      01:31pm | 27/08/12

      Whichever way the cookie crumbles, the Ultra Important thing is Armstrong has his millions and no one is going deny him in that regard

    • Phillip says:

      01:45pm | 27/08/12

      And Carl Lewis? Cover up there as well. Yet they still have him on shows talking in noble terms about athletics and condemning Ben Johnson! Who are the winners of the golds if he were to be treated as Armstrong?

    • Davo says:

      01:51pm | 27/08/12

      Cheat or champion? Who knows?

      The boring answer is that we will have more of an idea when USADA releases its evidence. Fortunately I think USADA have to release a justification for there actions five days after Lance rejected arbitration. By my reckoning that means keep an eye out for more info on Wednesday the 29th.

    • Dolt says:

      01:58pm | 27/08/12

      Many lib lovers form opinions on what they guess ppl are thinking so I’m doing the same. I think as he knows it will all come out in a hearing and he’ll be 100% known as a cheat, so he’s not defending it. This way the allegations are never tested and the doubt remains. The suckholes will believe he’s ok. But as if you’d let them take your titles if you’re innocent anyway!

    • colin says:

      02:23pm | 27/08/12

      Cheat or champion? WHO CARES?

      Frankly, if one wheel-spinning, strong-of-muscle-weak-of-brain velocipede-jockey is taking wacky beans to beat other equally pointless Lycra-clad loons, who gives a flying fagoli bean?

      “Look, I can pedal faster than someone else…My knuckles are bleeding a lot from all that dragging about at speed though…”

    • Raymond Morris says:

      03:52pm | 27/08/12

      You’re doing it wrong if your knuckles are bleeding while riding a velocipede.

    • Jo says:

      02:32pm | 27/08/12

      “Detractors, including the seemingly jealous sections of the French media, will continue to assert that the American was involved in a long-running, systematic conspiracy to cheat his way to victory.”

      To be fair on the French media, and L’Equipe in particular, they have been the best source for factual reporting of this whole issue. Hyperbolic headlines about Lance being stripped of his 7 titles last week were parroted around the world and (at that stage) only L’Equipe was pointing out that it’s not the USADA that can actually “strip” Lance’s titles off him. The UCI has a better chance, but most likely it’s the actual Tour De France organisers, who are a separate entity. It wasn’t until Sunday that the rest of the world’s media seemed to have caught on, and the sensationalist headlines are continuing.

      French media outlets may have been anti-Lance in the past. They may be anti-Lance now and in the future, but they win the award for actually knowing their shit when it comes to reporting the news.

      As to whether he’s guilty or not, I don’t think we’ll ever know.

    • Darren says:

      03:27pm | 27/08/12

      I know of one cyclist who lies, cheats and is never 100% truthful - his name is Tony Abbott

    • SM says:

      03:54pm | 27/08/12

      A fraud of the highest order, and using his fundraising work to somehow try and cloud the issue shows he is an utter disgrace.  Thankfully that’s how the overwhelming majority will remember him

    • MD says:

      04:34pm | 27/08/12

      So his Tour de France titles get taken off him, and given to the blokes who didn’t take quite as much drugs.

      Such a noble sport, cycling.

    • bananabender says:

      05:14pm | 27/08/12

      Nolo contendere or ‘no contest’ is always considered a de facto admission of GUILT by US courts as part of plea bargain agreement.

      Armstrong has the money and influence to fight any legal action. It is extraordinarily unlikely he would accept a plea bargain unless the evidence against him was totally overwhelming. By choosing no contest he can convince himself and the mostly gullible public that he is an innocent victim of the system.

    • Scuba says:

      05:57pm | 27/08/12

      Given that his co-accused Johan Bruyneel is proceeding to arbitration, USADA’s evidence will come to light at that time if not before.

    • Cat says:

      06:48pm | 27/08/12

      Interesting article Kev. I think the variability of arguments presented within the comments here give us a good indication of the confusion and dissatisfaction the whole process of drug testing in cycling instills. I guess we will never know if he’s a cheat or not.


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